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Lyme Disease Reported Increasing, Spreading in U.S.

Adult deer tick

Adult deer tick (U.S. National Park Service)

30 July 2018. A medical diagnostics company released a report today showing the number of cases of Lyme disease is increasing over the past 8 years, and spreading to more parts of the U.S. Quest Diagnostics in Secaucus, New Jersey, a nationwide network of medical testing labs, compiled the report, part of a series of publications from its database of 44 billion test results.

Lyme disease is an infection from Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria spread by bites from deer and black legged ticks already infected by the bacteria. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash, and if caught quickly can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, however, Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of cases of Lyme disease fluctuating between 20,000 and 28,500 a year from 2006 to 2016. The agency also says in 2015, 95 percent of confirmed cases were reported in states along the east coast of the U.S. from Maine to Virginia, as well as Wisconsin.

CDC says most cases are diagnosed by reports of symptoms, with lab testing helpful if performed correctly.  Quest Diagnostics, a company in the business of medical lab tests, based its report on its 6 million lab tests conducted in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, from 2010 to 2017. The company says its tests analyzed blood samples for immunoglobulins, proteins in blood produced by antibodies in the immune system. In this case, the tests look for antibodies characteristic of immune reactions to Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The tests, says Quest, would be requested if a physician suspects a patient has Lyme disease.

The report shows the number of Lyme disease cases, determined by positive immunoglobulin tests, fluctuated between 20,000 and 23,000 per year from 2010 to 2014. After 2014, however, the number of cases rose steadily to 25,000 in 2015, and reaching some 35,000 in 2017. Likewise, the rate of positive test results rose from 6.7 percent in 2014 to 11.2 percent in 2017.

In addition, Quest reports the disease is spreading from its long-time hotbed on the east coast to other parts of the country. Eastern states continue to report the most Lyme disease cases, with New England states alone accounting for 61 percent of the total in 2017. Other eastern states reported sharp increases between 2015 and 2017, particularly Pennsylvania that recorded a 78 percent rise to some 10,000 cases.

But the report also shows the disease spreading to other states in the U.S. Quest says between 2015 and 2017, Florida and California noted 501 and 483 new cases of Lyme disease respectively. In 2015, California reported only 164 cases, which represents nearly a tripling in cases in that time. In Florida, the increase of 77 percent from 283 cases in 2015 is less dramatic, but still substantial. Other states reporting large increases in Lyme disease cases are Georgia, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The Lyme disease report is part of Quest’s Health Trends series that mines data from its test records, with personal identifiers removed. Other reports in the series cover allergies and cardiovascular health. The company also maintains a regular index of workforce drug testing results with positivity rates and trends reported by 3-digit zip codes.

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